WHAT can you say after a result like this? Whether in March or in September, Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is the biggest GAA platform there is; you don’t just want to win, you want to perform, you want to impress.
What plaudits, then, can you offer a team that came to headquarters with the additional pressure of being the hottest of hot favourites, that came with all the extra fanfare of being possibly the greatest club hurling team of all time, and in less than half an hour of sublime, irresistible team play, justified every word that had been written and said about them?
The biggest winning margin — 19 points — in the history of the competition, the most titles in the shortest period of time, three in four years — what can you say?
By half-time yesterday, this All-Ireland final was over as a contest. Even by halfway through that first half, it was as good as over. 2-11 to 0-3 it was at the break, but even after 15 minutes, at 0-5 to 0-1, the writing was on the wall.
The only chance De La Salle had yesterday was to hold Portumna up early on, stay with them for the first half then see if the pressure would get to the reigning champions after the break. But it never happened.
Portumna paid De La Salle due respect; in boxing parlance, they kept their guard up for that opening quarter, stayed behind the jab, proceeded to pick off the points. Full-back Eugene McEntee and full-forward Joe Canning knocked over a couple, Bryan Phelan replying with a free for De La Salle. But then four more on the trot, one each from brothers Niall and Damien Hayes, two from Joe. And then, the first knockdown, perfectly timed.
Niall Hayes hit Joe Canning with a good pass; Joe, with the touch and vision that has already separated him from most, found the supporting Damien Hayes with a superb over-shoulder handpass. Sure control from Damien, surer finish into the corner.
Nine minutes later, a couple of minutes before the break, Portumna having added three more points against just one from De La Salle, and a second body blow. This one started at the back, keeper Ivan Canning with a long clearance after an uncontested ball was dropped into his area.
Corner-forward Ciarán Ryan as set-up man on this occasion, with Damien Hayes again in position to take the scoring pass — 2-9 to 0-2, and all too easy for Portumna.
From there it became a stroll for the champions, only the winning margin a matter for debate. They added 13 points in the second half, no more goals, but then again, no need for any more goals. De La Salle did add 1-5 but that was no consolation, because when you ship a beating like this on such a big stage, there is no consolation, certainly none for the De La Salle big three of Kevin Moran, Bryan Phelan and John Mullane. Croke Park wasn’t a happy ground for them with Waterford in last September’s All-Ireland final, yesterday was a chance for redemption. Some chance against a Portumna team that doesn’t seem to have a weak link.
Consider this: against a defence where only Ollie Canning would be nationally known, it took De La Salle until the second minute of the second half before a forward registered a score, impressive substitute Thomas Kearney doing the honours with a point.
The De La Salle goal? That came from wing-forward Páidí Nevin, a scrambled effort in the 40th minute after a good move involving John Mullane, Dean Twomey and Kearney, but other than that, this was almost a complete lockdown by the Portumna defence. In the one instance where keeper Ivan Canning was called on, he saved a close-range Lee Hayes kicked effort in the 7th minute.
Had that gone in, had De La Salle keeper Stephen Brenner managed to goal the penalty won just before the break, would we have had a real contest? Perhaps, but in all honesty there was a real gulf in class. We’ve mentioned defence and keeper — what about midfield? Again, total dominance by Portumna.
Tactically, having started with regular centre-back Kevin Moran pulled back to the edge of the square to cope with the threat of Joe Canning, De La Salle opted to play regular midfielder Bryan Phelan as a sweeper, in front of the full-back line, pulling corner-forward David Greene to midfield. It didn’t work; Eoin Lynch and Leo Smith ruled the roost for Portumna in this area, the extra man at the back meant Ollie Canning and company had time and space in which to work the ball forward, which meant the quality of supply to those up front for Portumna was top drawer.
While Joe Canning and Damien Hayes are the recognised big hitters, every one of the remaining four in the Portumna attack is capable of doing damage. Nine points from the half-forward line — five from Niall Hayes, two each from Chunky and Andrew Smith; inside, Ciarán Ryan with the final pass for the second goal, then substitute David Canning with a point of his own with his first touch.
This is a team that has proven itself up there with the likes of Birr, Athenry, the Shamrocks of the 80s, Blackrock and the Barrs of Cork. Where all those have had their day, however, there’s more in Portumna. Three-in-a-row? Given their display yesterday, their demolition a few weeks ago of Ballyhale Shamrocks, why not?
Scorers for Portumna: D Hayes 2-2; J Canning 0-9 (0-7 frees, 0-1 s/l); N Hayes 0-5; K Hayes 0-2; A Smith 0-2; D Canning, M Ryan, E Lynch, L Smith, 0-1 each,
De La Salle: P Nevin 1-0; B Phelan 0-2 (frees); T Kearney 0-2; S Brenner (pen), J Mullane, D Russell, J Quirke (free), 0-1 each,
PORTUMNA: I Canning; M Dolphin, E McEntee, O Canning (c); G Heagney, M Ryan, A Donnelly; E Lynch, L Smith; N Hayes, K Hayes, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, C Ryan,
Subs: D Canning (Ryan 56); M Gill (Heagney 59); P Smith (L Smith 59); J O’Flaherty (McEntee 60); P Treacy (O’Donnell 60)
DE LA SALLE: S Brenner; A Kelly, I Flynn, M Doherty; D Russell, K Moran, S Daniels; B Phelan, C Watt; P Nevin, D McGrath, L Hayes; D Twomey, J Mullane (c), D Greene,
Subs: B Farrell (Hayes inj 11); T Kearney (McGrath inj 18); J Quirke (Farrell 30); A O’Neill (Watt 57); D Dooley (Twomey 57)
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)